And 1: Washington State 81, Stanford 69

Kevin Danna brings his insights and observations from Stanford's disappointing defeat versus the Washington State Cougars, 81-69, on a snowy Thursday night in Pullman.

For 28 minutes, this was Stanford's game to lose. After a half-court first half, Stanford opened it up to start the second, seemingly unstoppable on the offensive end after scoring 17 points in the first 4:50 of the final frame to give Stanford a 12-point lead.

And then the game that was theirs to lose was lost.

Washington State started to feel it, the crowd started to feel it, and a run turned into a trend that the Cardinal couldn't break as the Cougars handed Stanford its fourth loss of the season.

How did Stanford lose it?

The short, over-simplistic answer is that the Cougars hit shots and Stanford didn't. Washington State was on FIRE in the second half. If Stanford held Washington State to 50 percent shooting in the final 20, Stanford probably wins that game.

That didn't happen. Seventy-three percent did. Faisal Aden couldn't miss. DaVonté Lacy hit a killer three. Brock Motum got free down low, and that was all she wrote for Stanford.

The longer answer will begin with a shorter sentence. The Farm Boys got away from their brand of basketball. Stanford was at its best in the first half, locking down the Cougars in the half court. After Washington State hit its first five shots of the game, the Cougars hit just four of their last 22 attempts of the half.

Stanford's help defense was STIFLING. Two helpside monster blocks, one by Josh Huestis and another from Anthony Brown on Marcus Capers and D.J. Shelton, respectively (at least I think it was Capers and Shelton - I was watching the game on a six-inch screen, and the webcast had no broadcaster). Throw in another Huestis stuff, and Washington State was left searching like a five year-old engulfed in a "Where's Waldo?" book. Stanford, although only up by two at the break, was clearly the better team in the first half. Any bucket Washington State scored was a mini-miracle. By the end of the half, Faisal Aden resorted to flipping up a wild shot at the basket as a field goal attempt (it went in); nothing else was working.

But that end of the half was the beginning of the end for the Cardinal. With under two minutes to go, Stanford was up 6 and had the ball. Then Stanford couldn't inbound it out of a timeout. Then came the Aden prayer, which he followed with a baseline jumper contested by Gage. And just like that, the margin was down to a couple of pesos. In three of Stanford's four losses this season (Syracuse, Oregon, Wazzu), the opponent has had the last say of the first half. I rarely think momentum is carried over into the second half from an end of first half sequence, but it's the separation that is gained or lost that can play a big role down the stretch.

The second half was a whole other story, and although the Cardinal got off to a great start, that opening spurt helped set the table for the eventual Washington State triumph. The game got to be too up-and-down, and it played right into the hands of the home team. It's tougher for a home crowd to get loud and crazy in a half-court, knock-‘em-down, drag-‘em-out grinder than it is in a seven seconds or less track meet. It wasn't exactly the latter, but the second half certainly had a lot more tempo to it. There weren't a lot of fans there (just north of 3,500), but the student section was pretty significant and loud.

In either case, the tempo suited Faisal Aden just fine.

It's pretty obvious that his 33 was the dagger if you were to pin it on an individual. Following in the footsteps of Ronald Nored, Lazeric Jones and Devoe Joseph, Faisal became the next backcourt Cardinal serial killer. Mid-range, runners, full-on takes to the hoop, he was doing it all besides knocking down the longball.

Not only did the tempo play to the crowd, it was also the only way Washington State could have won this game. I know it was just a two-point deficit at the break, but had this been a half-court game for 40 minutes, I highly doubt the Cougars could have won it, or even been close. Stanford was on the verge of burying the Cougars playing that style, but the quick shots Stanford took (and made) to start the second half that led to the 17-7 Cardinal spurt actually helped out Washington State in the long run.

Now, to be fair, Washington State did execute a lot better when they got in the half court in the second half. The Cougars ran one play along the baseline to get Brock Motum free off a screen on the low block for an easy lay-up a couple of times. Someone in red would get caught up in a screen, and Brock in white would get the easy deuce. But still, offensive rebounds wouldn't have been so easy for Washington State (they had a couple of timely ones) and a slower game would have limited the possessions and shot opportunities for a scorching-hot Cougars side.

Another thing that did the Cardinal in was shot selection. It wasn't that Stanford players were trying to go one on five and play me-against-the-world ball; rather, the ball movement was pretty good (12 assists on 24 makes isn't anything to write home about, but it's not bad either). It wasn't that Stanford was taking contested jumpers; instead, Stanford got wide open looks again and again. It wasn't even that those wide open looks were for the poorer shooters on the team; actually, Stanford's four best shooters took more than two-thirds of the team's shots. 

What hurt was that as a team, Stanford settled for those outside jumpers when they weren't falling and when there was still plenty of game to be played. It's tough to fault those shots because they were so wide open and they were being taken by such good shooters, but those are the shots that Washington State's 2-3 is willing to give up. It worked for them for a half against their in-staters, and it worked for them for a whole against the Farm Boys. Josh Owens went 8-8 from the field tonight and maybe got the ball where he likes it ten or eleven times overall.  Washington State was making it tough on Josh to get the position he desired (Abe Lodwick one time was able to deflect a post-entry pass out of play), but it would have certainly been nice to get him more looks.

Then again, if those perimeter jumpers fell at a higher rate, it wouldn't have mattered nearly as much to get it inside. But when more than 55 percent of a team's shots come from beyond the arc, and only 24 percent of those shots phone home, it makes it a lot easier to play the "what if" game.

The straw that strained the camel's back came when the game was tied at 55. Stanford had just forced a missed shot, but the ball got tipped out to center court and Washington State was able to retrieve.  A quick look to the right wing found a wide-open DaVonté Lacy, who nailed the three to give Washington State its biggest lead of the second half at that time. Nothing makes you wish you had taken a keen interest in sniffing glue more than an offensive rebound that leads to a three-pointer.

The straw that broke the camel's back was on the very next Cougar offensive possession.  After Huestis missed a jumper, the Cougars roared back in transition and found Reggie Moore, who hit another three to give the powers from the Palouse their new largest lead. The game would never get closer than the deficit Moore created (six).

Although it felt like Stanford would get back into the game, it never happened. A long Cardinal cold streak combined with clutch Cougar free-throw shooting made sure of that.

This loss hurts a lot, but it ain't December 21 yet by a longshot. A win in Seattle and all is well. The split is achieved, and the Cardinal remain on pace for at-large consideration. The Huskies figure to be an even tougher test, but they are certainly beatable, even on their home court.

It'll take a dawgged effort, but it can be done.
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